„The food and the people speaking my language make me feel at home”.
Out of the everything I have learned during our workshop, Kiran’s quote is one of my most striking take-aways. It reflects our findings from interviews, façade studies, and architectural analyses: Community is the main factor of belonging. Of course, community and belonging also influence and are influenced by the built environment. In the case of Kishangarh this relates to use and temporality. While the “temple road” was more commercially oriented and belonging was based on the interpersonal relations, the “metro road” as a more residential area showed attachment to place rather than people.
I was surprised that even though (or maybe just because) I was the odd one out, the one that didn’t belong, people would come up to me to be interviewed. Perhaps they were really “just curious”, but maybe they also felt like they found a way to express their (un)belonging to the place they live in.
Or maybe it was my new Indian friends treating me as one of their own. Between jetlag, culture shock and commitment to our common project, Kiran’s quote also suited our situation. Even though from different parts of the world, we became a community.
Urban Transformation and Placemaking Delhi
This project was a group effort. None of the data used to write this essay was required solely bythe author. Given the close cooperation between the team members it is indistinguishable who has contributed which result. As for that none of the following results are solely mine, nor do I claim them to be.
This essay deals with close, personal topics of belonging and unbelonging. This also relates to gentrification, displacement, poverty, and hardship. As we have interviewed real people with serious concerns, it is advised to handle these findings with caution. I am not part of any of the groups, I am not affected by any pf the problems stated above. So I am in no way capable to speak for those people nor do I intend to do so.
In 1962, the Delhi masterplan excluded several villages in and around the city from the planning process. The lack of regulations and an increased demand for housing in these areas, resulted in severe urban restructuring. The result is a complex layering of unsafe, highly densified buildings, new high-end construction, gated societies, and illicit “JJ-clusters” (slum conditions) with occasional traditional structures interspersed between them. Kishangarh, an urban village in the south of New Delhi, represents a clash between urban and rural, both in terms of architecture and community. In this environment, is there a sense of belonging?
In the area between the park and the temple, belonging and unbelonging manifest themselves in different ways. Either way, the built and lived form of this area is strongly marked by the people living there. As many of the residents here come from different parts of India and only intend to stay temporarily, there is a big influx as well as outflux of people. In general, these people do not feel an attachment to the built form, as most of them live on rent and only stay temporarily. As they are not born in this area either, they do not feel a sentimental attachment.
But nevertheless, Kishangarh is a thriving neighbourhood reliant on a feeling of belonging.
“The people looking like me and the people speaking my language and the [Assamese] food make me feel like home.” (Kiran)
This Belonging, as its not rooted in the physical environment, is created through an attachment to the community. This attachment is on the one hand related to cultural, enclaves within the urban village. For example, workers coming to Delhi from the North-East have occupied several neighbouring houses and opened floor-level restaurants selling North-Eastern food and thus forming a community.
In an increasingly urban and anonymous setting, community amenities such as the temple and the park have become key locations. As Indian life takes place mostly outside, public spaces are used for recreational purposes, sports, and festivities. Kishangarh is defined by community and hence the people who live here, who lived here in the past, those who will move in and those who merely move through. In the context of belonging to community means this translates to the built environment having a temporality and multi-purpose usage in order to adapt to the different communities.
“There is a park in the gated society with a playground, but we are not allowed to enter. One time my brother was chased by the guards and cut his face on the barbed wire.” (Neha)
In recent developments, a new metro station is being built on the outskirts, replacing a park and causing resentment within the community as the metro, a gated society and high-security buildings foster processes of gentrification. These new developments create feelings of unbelonging for previous residents. They were driven out of the park, a former place of community-making, security personnel of the new apartment buildings is making sure people do not loiter and the barbed wire and security around the gated society keeps residents away.
However, despite its extremely diverse structure and constant change, Kishangarh is thriving. It is a diverse neighbourhood offering a variety of citizen-organized institutions to support residents. And despite not feeling a sense of belonging towards buildings, there is a strong sense of belonging amongst communities, be it related to age, culture, or religion.
Ira Borgstedt is a first semester master’s student of Geography at the University of Heidelberg. She is interested in how planning and the built environment influence social and political processes and vice-versa in an urban context. Her particular focus lies on past and current power dynamics and the resulting socio-spatial distributions within the city.